The best affordable independent watches 2020
Four great brands offering interesting entry-level mechanical watches at sensible prices
There is no shortage of talented independent watchmakers out there creating exciting timepieces, often with limited resources. But there are also a lot of not very good ones, creating boring and forgettable watches and charging way over the odds for them.
To help you navigate your way to an affordable mechanical watch that is genuinely worth the money, The Week Portfolio has scoured through the market to sort the horological wheat from the timekeeping chaff.
DIY Watch Club
It is hard to overstate how much we here at The Week Portfolio love DIY Watch Club.
If you have even a passing interest in mechanical watches, chances are you will be curious about what is going on behind the dial. You may even be aware of the community of passionate watch modifiers - or modders - who take watches apart and put them back together again with different dials, bezels, hands and crowns.
If that sounds like fun, but you don’t really know where to start, the DIY Watch Club offers the perfect way in. They will send you all the tools you need to put together a range of different dive watches and dress watches, which arrive in parts ready to be assembled.
With your purchase comes access to well-produced how-to videos that will hold your hand through the process, taking the guesswork out of it. We opted for the DWC-D01 (below), one of the dive watches the company offers, featuring a black dial and housing a reliable Seiko movement.
The construction process is relatively straightforward, with just a couple of hairy moments - the worst of which was the application of the second hand. This step comes with its own video which warns that if you mess the application up too badly, you will break the movement and it will be game over.
With a shaking hand, we eventually managed to apply the tiny pointer and get through the rest of the process to emerge from the roughly two-hour task with a glorious dive watch that looks great on the wrist and, with a depth rating of 200 metres, could genuinely be put to work beneath the waves.
The “finished” product is, of course, only the start of your watchmaking journey. Once you get a taste for it, you may soon find yourself back on the DIY Watch Club website looking for new components including straps, hands and dials - or heading out into the wider internet to pick up even more exotic parts from the burgeoning watch mod community.
By the time you are done, your watch will truly feel like a one of a kind because, well, it will be.
Prices begin at around £190; diywatch.club
One of the most interesting indie watchmakers of the moment is Ciga Design, a Chinese brand that has won a bevy of design awards in its short history.
The watches in its collection reveal a creative impulse that is highly eclectic. Many companies iterate with each new watch they produce, refining previous products as they go, or at least displaying a discernible DNA which is present across the range. Not so with Ciga which seems intent on creating something genuinely new with each new watch.
The most recent two releases stand as an excellent case in point.
The Z Series (above) is a watch with more than a passing resemblance to the celebrity-favourite watch brand du jour, Richard Mille. The watch has the same case shape, a kind of bowed ellipsis with flattened-off ends.
It is an imposing scale, but given the case is made from titanium, it feels incredibly light on the wrist, a detail which may have contributed to the Z Series winning the 2020 German Design Award.
The dial is skeletonised, revealing the beating heart of the movement below, and hands are tipped with red to lift them out of the movement. The effect is a surprisingly subtle face - a departure from those of Richard Mille, which can be cacophonic, verging on vulgar.
The J Series (below) is subtler still, with a dial inspired by Zen Japanese rock gardens. If there is a connection between the J and the Z it would be the skeletonisation of the dial, which here also reveals the movement below. Apart from that though, the two look almost like watches made by different manufacturers.
One thing that is common to the pair of them is the beautiful packaging they arrive in - a sleek white box that opens like a book, with spaces cut out for the watch and the two straps which come as standard with each.
Particularly handsome is the mesh bracelet that comes with the J series, a stainless steel Milanese strap, which contours perfectly to the wrist. The alternative is a polymer strap, which carries on the Japanese rock garden theme with lines that look like raked sand. Both straps offer a very different look and it is nice to have alternatives as standard with a watch purchase.
Ciga’s other watches are equally diverse, including a watch that looks something like a hollowed out Apple Watch, and other radical departures. This is a brand that genuinely offers something for everyone.
Crowdfunded watch start-ups are a dime a dozen these days, but every now and then a brand emerges with a totally new concept that captures collectors’ imaginations.
So it was when Singapore-based design studio Humism launched a range of kinetic watches that utilise an automatic movement in concert with two or three rotating discs to create a dynamic piece of artwork for our wrists.
Indeed, Humism smashed through its funding goals in just 30 minutes after launching its inaugural Kinetic Art watch collection, Philosophies, in February 2017.
Take your pick really, all the designs are gorgeous and entirely mesmeric. To our eye, however, the Rhizome might just be the most beautiful of the lot.
Prices from £230; humism.com
Mr. Jones Watches
Creativity and experimentation used to be core values of watchmaking, but these days many of the world’s best-known brands prioritise legibility and traditionalism over originality.
Explaining the trend, news and reviews site A Blog to Watch says: “As consumer tastes ebb toward conservatism during unpredictable economic times (as we are in now), more experimental or artistic designs often get pushed to the side.”
And as a result, the so-called art watches of yesteryear have become increasingly difficult to find, especially at an affordable price point.
Enter London-based timepiece brand Mr. Jones Watches, which has built up a loyal following by creating a range of innovative designs dreamt up by tattooists, artists and graphic designers.
There is so much artistry on offer at Mr Jones, with cool movements that place numbers in unexpected places, or support floating dial elements and other clever tricks. The Week Portfolio is partial to The Last Laugh Tattoo XL, but the colour Venn is also appealing, as is A Perfectly useless afternoon. Possibly the perfect summer watch.
Prices from £175, mrjoneswatches.com